In Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM), we believe a balanced lifestyle and diet is the key to nourish your body for an optimal state suitable for fertility and conception to occur.
A quote by a famous fourteenth-century physician describes the role of Chinese nutrition within TCM: “Doctors first have to find the cause for an illness and determine which disharmony prevails. To balance this disharmony, the first and foremost measure is appropriate diet. It is not until this measure bears no results that one should use medicines.”
Please read my following articles on how TCM can help your fertility challenges before proceeding on to read my fertility diet tips.
TCM Diet Nutrition
Chinese nutritional therapy is closely related to acupuncture and medicinal plant medicine and follows the same diagnostic principles. It focuses on the qualitative effects of foods on the body. The term “qi,” which has many meanings in Chinese, including life force or life energy, is of vital significance in this context.
Health is an expression of balanced qi; disease occurs when qi is unbalanced. The body extracts and absorbs qi from food. Foods, therefore, are mild therapeutic agents that help the body stay balanced, or bring it back into balance.
This knowledge of the healing qualities of food was practiced and treasured in our own culture until recently, but has gotten lost in the trend toward “fast food.” Similar connections between food and medicine have been made since antiquity.
Hippocrates recommended “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Hildegard von Bingen, the eleventh-century German visionary naturalist and healer, used foods for healing by devising energetic classifications that are surprisingly similar to Chinese food classifications.
Western nutritional therapy, a relatively young science, applies primarily quantitative criteria to
food. It classifies food by nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, trace elements, and minerals.
For diabetes, for example, it prescribes a quantitative diet that measures the glycemic index of foods. However, there is increasing interest in the qualitative aspects of foods in the Western world, in part due to the rapid increase of food-related illnesses and the observation
that people can react very differently and very strongly to the same food. Like acupuncture
and medicinal plant therapy, Chinese nutritional therapy can offer valuable perspectives in this context.
TCM Fertility Diet: What to eat
- Reduce processed and refined foods – Things like sausages, ham, preserved vegetables, white rice is those that I tend to ask my patients to avoid. Choose wholesome, whole-grain, high-fibre foods instead.
- Eat organic – Pesticides and additives, which have been shown to cause menstrual irregularity, miscarriage, stillbirths and developmental defects, should be reduced to minimal in your regular diet to increase chances of your pregnancy rates.
- Go heavy on greens – Normally I will advise patients to reduce their raw vegetables salad to 1-2 times per week because in TCM, cold foods tend to reduce digestion in a human body and this can further harm our nutrients uptake. I would recommend filling half of your plate with cooked vegetables such as spinach, zucchini, beans, lettuce, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, peppers, artichokes, cucumbers, asparagus, dill, avocado, eggplant, bamboo shoots, seaweed, beetroots, mushrooms, okra, tomatoes, olives, celery, peas and ginger. These vegetables contain vital vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, C, B6, B12, K, beta carotene, calcium, vitamin E, folate, iron, niacin, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and selenium, all plays a important role in your fertility. They are also an excellent sources of dietary fibre, which keeps your bowels healthy and regular.
- Go heavy on cruciferous vegetables – Other than the vegetables mentioned above, cruciferous vegetables such as bok choy, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips and radishes, are known to reduce oxidative stress, which are one of the factors causing cancer and tumour growth in our body. According to TCM, these vegetables can help to detoxify your liver and eliminate excess hormones. This is especially useful in today’s stressful society.
- Eat iodine-rich foods – Consuming only cruciferous vegetables can however lower your iodine levels, which is important for thyroid function. This is why I advocate a balanced diet. Adding foods such as seaweed, wakame, kombu, kelp, Himalayan Crystals salts, cranberries, strawberries can help to balance your iodine levels.
- Diversify – diversity your food intake from many sources to obtain nutrients from different foods.
- Go non-GMO – Genetically modified foods(GMO) foods plague our food supply chain, do remember to look out for non-GMO foods if you can.
- Protein-ful – Protein is very important because it is the building block of life. I recommend vegetable-based proteins in the form of legumes and nuts, such as chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, beans, walnuts, almonds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds. If you are non-vegan, you can opt for free range eggs. If not, nuts and legumes are sufficient.
- Omega-3 – Omega-3 are naturally anti-inflammatory, and as we age, inflammation tends to increase. They can also help with egg quality and sperm quality. I don’t recommend consuming too much omega-3 from fish sources because of increasing levels of mercury. I recommend my patients to buy algal oil because it provides the same heart-healthy benefits of traditional omega-3 supplements and oils but without the unpleasant fishy aftertaste and impurities associated with some omega-3 fish oils. Each capsule provides omega-3s from algae, including 270 mg of DHA and 135 mg of EPA, well sufficient for our daily intake.
TCM Fertility Diet: What NOT to eat
- Sugar – Refined white sugar as I have mentioned earlier, has to be avoided ALL cost. This includes fruit juices as well as they contain high levels of sugar with zero fibre. Sugar of all kinds can cause blood glucose to spike, causing insulin resistance and ovulatory issues as a result. This is evident from PCOS patients and I have explained in-depth the link between insulin and fertility in my PCOS article.
- Artificial sweeteners – these chemicals can increase inflammation and affect the growth of eggs, especially in PCOS patients.
- Prepackaged, canned and processed foods with long expiration dates – yes I am referring to chocolate bars, canned pasta with tomato sauce. They are loaded with chemical flavourings, colourings, preservatives and fillers.
- Fast foods and fried foods – these contain a lot of trans-fats, which can increase weight, impede ovulation and fertility.
- Gluten-containing foods – they can increase inflammation and affect hormonal functions. Due to their inflammatory nature, they can also activate autoimmune disoders, which can contribute to miscarriage.
- Alcohol – Abstain if possible. If not, a glass or two per week is fine. Binge drinking is an absolute NO.
- Coffee and caffeine-containing teas – it is best to reduce caffeine intake to less than 200mg per day. A study has shown that two cups of regular coffee can increase the risk of miscarriage.
- Reduce dairy intake – Dairy products contain insulin-like growth factor(IGF-1), especially when taken from high-producing milk cattle. This in turn increases insulin resistance, causing fertility issues.
- Cold drinks, fruits and foods – Things like iced-drinks, smoothies, fruits straight out from the fridge is not recommended as it is at a temperature that is not optimal for our gastric enzymes. This reduces our rate of digestion and overtime, affects the metabolism of our bodies. This includes our hormonal regulation, which is essential for a healthy body.
TCM Fertility Diet: How to eat
- Eat lightly cooked vegetables, not over-cooked as nutrients might be lost due to excessive heat. Steaming helps your digestion and promote better absorption
- Chew your food thoroghly before swallowing as this can aid the digestion process.
- Do not multitask while eating. Yes I mean looking at your phone, watching netflix and dramas or playing computer games while eating. This may harm your digestion because you might have a tendancy not to chew your food and gobble food down too quickly.
- Eat at regular intervals and don’t skip meals.
- Try to prepare your meals as much as you can. This is because outside-cooked foods tend to be high in salt, sugar and MSG(a type of food addictive). If you find it difficult to cook during the week, you can make several recipes over the weekend and warm it before you eat. If not, try to avoid deep-fried foods outside and add more greens in your dish.
Although the above guidelines are critical to your fertility, everyone has a different body constitution. Therefore for a better assessment and nutritional advice, I strongly suggest you to seek a proper TCM treatment so that you can have a diet plan that is more catered to your body constitution.
Edmund graduated with a First Class Hons in Biomedical Sciences and Traditional Chinese Medicine from Nanyang Technological University, before taking a Masters in Gynaecology(TCM) in Liaoning, China.
He has successfully treated patients with unexplained infertility, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome(PCOS) and endometriosis and helped them conceive naturally with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Currently he is working in EMW Physiotherapy & TCM Clinic.
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